LOWELL — It took a Herculean effort, according to Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy, but the Warriors pulled out the brooms and swept UMass Lowell out of the Hockey East playoffs courtesy of a 3-2 overtime win last night at the Tsongas Center.
Ed Note — This story will appear in Sunday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
Merrimack won back-to-back overtime games at the Tsongas Center to take the series. The Warriors will advance to the Hockey East Quarterfinal series next weekend, where they’ll travel to top-seeded Boston College.
Ludvig Larsson was the hero on Friday night for the Warriors, and it was Jace Hennig’s turn to be the hero on Saturday; he found the puck between the faceoff dots and then found open net past UMass Lowell goaltender Christoffer Hernberg at the 13:59 mark of the game’s first overtime.
“I saw (Seney) and (Mathieu Tibbet) driving down the left side,” said Hennig, who scored his 11th goal of the season. “With two guys like that driving down the left, I went to the net looking for a rebound and the puck landed right on my stick.”
The game-winner came after an ugly third period for the Warriors, where the River Hawks were playing for their lives and looked like the more desperate team, outshooting Merrimack 11-3 in the period and also tying the score at the 8:31 mark; that goal eliminated what had been a two-goal lead for the Warriors.
But Dennehy has liked this team’s resiliency all year, and it was on display again last night.
“It’s a game of ebbs and flows,” he said. “They’re playing for their lives in the third. They were desperate and as much as you remind guys to be patient and move their feet, the tendency in a game like that is you don’t want to be the guy who screws up. We shot ourselves in the foot (in the third). (Lowell) got it going and we were on our heels. The overtime couldn’t have come at any better time. We were able to go back and refocus and get back to playing the type of hockey we played for large stretches (Friday) night and (last night).”
Merrimack goaltender Craig Pantano was immense in the weekend series for the Warriors; Pantano stopped 30 shots on Saturday night. Despite Merrimack’s 10th-place record (12-19-4), the Warriors are nearly a .500 team (11-12-2) in games Pantano had started this season.
At the beginning of the season Pantano was penciled in as third on the depth chart, just as he was the past two seasons. But after the Warriors struggled to find their way early in the season, the Warriors turned to Pantano on Oct. 28, and they essentially never looked back.
“Craig was fantastic both nights,” Hennig said. “You could pull so many clips of him going cross-crease. When you see a guy like that battling, it makes you want to step in front of a puck for him and block a shot.”
“His pulse is faint,” Dennehy added. “Nothing bothers him, he’s so calm. He made some big post-to-post saves in the second and third periods.”
Lowell’s season ends with the first sub-.500 record in the Norm Bazin era (17-19-0).
“I think this year was a year of missed opportunities,” Bazin said. “Every time we won a game, we had to lose the next night. That’s not the level of consistency you need to have to be a good team in Hockey East.
“Congratulations to Merrimack. They came in here and took two important road games. Their staff and their team are very deserving.”
Merrimack’s senior class becomes the first class in program history to win three playoff series, defeating Northeastern (2015), New Hampshire (2016) and now UMass Lowell (2018).
Merrimack 3, UMass Lowell 2 (OT) Merrimack wins series, 2-0 Merrimack (12-19-4): 1-1-0-1—3 UMass Lowell (17-19-0): 0-1-1-0—2 1st Period Scoring - 1, MER Michael Babcock/2 (Brett Seney/18) 19:21 (SH) Penalties - Jake Kamrass, UML (Holding) 11:34; Tyler Drevitch, MER (Hitting after the Whistle) 17:24 2nd Period Scoring - 2, MER Alfred Larsson/2 (Tyler Irvine/3) 5:31 3, UML Mattias Göransson/4 (Nick Master/10, Jake Kamrass/7) 8:06 Penalties - Alfred Larsson, MER (5-Slashing) 0:23; Kenny Hausinger, UML (Elbowing) 3:15; Brett Seney, MER (Embellishment) 4:13; Tyler Mueller, UML (Tripping) 4:13; Mattias Göransson, UML (Hooking) 5:31; Tyler Drevitch, MER (Slashing) 12:15 3rd Period Scoring - 4, UML Connor Wilson/8 (Anthony Baxter/9, Tyler Mueller/13) 8:31 Penalties - None Overtime Scoring - 5, MER Jace Hennig/11 (Brett Seney/19, Mathieu Tibbet/2) 13:59 (GW) Penalties - None Merrimack Goaltending - Craig Pantano (73:52, 32 shots, 30 saves, 2 GA); Empty Net (0:07, 0 GA) UMass Lowell Goaltending - Christoffer Hernberg (73:59, 27 shots, 24 saves, 3 GA) Win - Craig Pantano, MER (11-12-2). Loss - Christoffer Hernberg, UML (14-10-0). Shots On Goal - MER 7-7-3-10=27; UML 6-9-11-6=32 Power Plays - MER 0 of 2; UML 0 of 3 Penalties - MER 4 (11 min); UML 4 (8 min)